Sunday, May 19, 2013
- Cecile Blake has been smoking since she was 16 years old but one year ago after she was diagnosed with heart disease she was forced to quit.
The 55-year-old business executive who calls herself a “chain smoker” experienced “shortness of breath” and other respiratory problems and was told by her doctor that if she did not stop smoking she would not have much longer to live.
“I was feeling tired all the time and every time I climbed stairs, I was out of breath by the time I reached the top. I just couldn’t do anything for too long,” she says.
After hearing of her heart problem and the possibility of having to undergo open heart surgery, Blake (not her real name) decided to kick the habit.
“It was very difficult for me to just give up cold turkey but when I found out that I could die because of the smoking, I had no choice,” she says.
Blake says she was determined not to be one of the many persons who die here from tobacco-related illnesses each year.
In Barbados 58 percent of all deaths in any one year is caused by tobacco-related illnesses, official statistics show.
As a result, several groups here who spearhead anti-smoking campaigns are pushing to make it illegal to smoke in government departments, schools, colleges, the airport, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) and public service vehicles.
At present smoking is banned from the arrival and departure halls of the airport but is allowed in other sections, while at the QEH, smoking is prohibited in specific areas.
However the groups want more and more government departments and other public facilities to be included in such measures. So in another few days the Owen Arthur administration is expected to be presented with a paper from the National Council on Substance Abuse calling on it to make every effort to promote a smoke-free environment.
“We are now in the process of completing the paper which is a broad policy on smoking because right now there is no law in place prohibiting smoking,” says a member of the Council who requested anonymity.
“In a number of buildings, smoking is only banned in some parts … but we want it stamped out totally. In a lot of buildings there are only partial restrictions,” he says.
The paper will also set out the medical costs associated with smoking-related illnesses and will push for the limiting of cigarette sales to persons under 18 years.
“All we are trying to do is to bring Barbados in line with what is happening in other countries like the United States where smoking in buildings is not allowed,” he adds.
Dr. Dorothy Cooke-Johnson, honorary secretary of the Barbados Cancer Society underscored the importance of having this legislation in place. She says the Society has written to government on many occasions pointing out the dangers of smoking.
It is for this reason that the organisation believes that tobacco should be removed from the cost of living index, saying it is not a necessity — but a “pleasure activity”.
Cooke-Johnson also notes that tobacco companies worldwide are under siege, and their future is hanging in the balance. “It is imperative that we move quickly to ensure their death,” she adds.
And in these anti-smoking drives focus must be placed on the young since studies have shown that 85 percent of all persons who smoke had started by the time they reached the age of 18.
“The number of deaths caused by tobacco-related illnesses is also much too high and government needs to act now,” she adds.
Some of these illnesses she points out, include cancer of the lungs, nose, throat, stomach, kidney and bladder; coronary heart disease, circulation problems and chronic bronchitis.
These days the Cancer Society stages smoking cessation clinics which try to help people give up the habit. They are also hoping to get trade unions to take up the issue and help protect persons in the work place from second hand smoke.
“The problem is there is no law in place – if there was legislation, it would help the administrators of institutions and give them the support they need,” says Cooke-Johnson.
“A lot of people hate being exposed to smoke in the home and the workplace … A number of employees are non-smokers and bosses have an obligation to protect them,” he says. “If legislation is in place, government would only be recognising what the public wants,” says Dr. Tony Gale who has also been lobbying for legislation to prohibit smoking in public places.
Gale recalled a petition in 1995 from airport workers who wanted smoking banned in the airport’s arrival and departure lounges. “They said it was a health hazard and they wanted to put a stop to it and when they signed the petition, I endorsed it and now it is a regulation,” he says.
Recent reports from the World Health Organisation shows that exposure to tobacco smoke causes more damage than other environmental hazards including asbestos, adds Gale.